“The Seed Never Sees The Flower”
Take a look around: Despite decades, even centuries of work by advocates, people still have a long way to go on a variety of important issues like race, gender, poverty, etc. The same is true of animal advocacy, which by comparison is a relatively young cause. But in spite of the arguably slow progress of advancing the status of animals in today’s society, there is reason for advocates to be optimistic.
The primary driver of animal abuse is not sadism, but rather indifference and self indulgence. With few exceptions, people do not take pleasure in using and abusing animals. This may seem an obvious or small point, but it also says a lot about the opportunity for advocates to change the human-animal paradigm in the long-term. When people are made aware of animal abuse and provided with clear and viable alternatives, they will choose them. But these changes will take time, and animal advocates need to think long-term with their goals and strategies.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of attending a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), which is one of the oldest animal protection groups in the country. It was a fun evening and the highlight for me was a speech by Tom Regan, which he entitled “The Seed Never Sees the Flower.” Tom explained that, just as the seed will never see the flower it is destined to become, today’s animal advocates may never see the idyllic world for which they strive. The pace of change might be frustrating at times, but we should feel assured that our efforts will someday blossom and lead to a more just world for all animals.
During the arc of AAVS’s history, we’ve seen many positive changes for animals in the U.S., and yet more animals are used for experimentation (and other purposes) today than ever before. Moreover, things are likely to get worse before they get better. As people in poorer nations accumulate more wealth, the per capita consumption of meat and dairy products will increase dramatically. Additionally, animal testing is increasingly being outsourced to China and other Asian countries, where animal welfare regulations are even more lax than in the U.S. Wildlife habitat the world over will continue to be destroyed at a depressing rate for the foreseeable future.
But despite the doom and gloom, my personal view is not depressed or cynical. In fact, I’m perhaps surprisingly optimistic about the long-term potential of the animal advocacy movement. And as I wrote in a past blog post, “Large majorities of the population would agree that all animals should be treated humanely and not made to suffer.” This is the baseline attitude toward animals, and it’s encouraging because it shows that we don’t have to convince people that animals deserve consideration, protection, and in some cases even rights. Rather, we just need to connect the dots (and issues) for people and show how justice for animals won’t come at the expense of people’s interests.
At the risk of belying my optimism, I feel compelled to reiterate the importance of being realistic and acknowledging that a truly humane world will be a long time coming. But the fact that we animal advocates are “seeds” who may never see the fruits or flowers of our work cannot lead to cynicism or cause us to give up. Instead, we must use it to strengthen our resolve and to always think about the long-term implications of our strategies and tactics.